I have always wondered why young adult dystopian literature clicked so well with its modern readers and I have come to the conclusion that it is because the novels understand what teenagers are going through in their daily lives and utilize that in their works. I decided to specifically look at Francine Prose’s novel After. The argument of my presentation is this: How Francine Prose’s young adult dystopian novel After, or a YA dystopian novel in general works as an exaggerated reflection of the trials and tribulations teenagers face in their lives. The title of the presentation will be called YA Dystopias: Distorted Mirrors of Teenage Life.
Although the possibilities are endless in answering this question, I narrowed my main points to four. The first one will be about the parent-child relationship found in the novel as well as young adult books in general. This, by far, is my strongest point because all the other sources I have read seem to overlook this. I will be talking about how this already tumultuous relationship will be tested even further by the exaggeration of circumstances. Prose uses this idea of these bonds being tested by cutting them loose entirely as the parents of the students in her book remove themselves away completely from their children.
The second point will be how the dystopian world described by many young adult dystopian novels actually reflect the harsh environment of high-school. Although this point has been repeated by several of my sources, the interesting twist in After is that it is set in a high-school turning into a dystopia. The writer becomes almost literal with the idea of exaggerating all the old rules the school had before and implementing new ones to show the link.
My third point is about how the dystopian world in the novel impedes another goal many teenagers have: discovering the adult world. Again, this theme is prevalent in many YA books but here, what I found interesting was how the main character had to peel the layers of deceit presented by his school. His frustration is very real as it reflects the feelings of modern-day teenagers who are trying to understand the illogical world around them, also filled with lies and deceit.
My last point would be more of a contrast to the other points since the others were more about how dystopian novels reflect but exaggerate real-life issues. However, they keep the idea of teenage mentality of newfound emotions very real. In the book I am studying, the reactions the characters have to their environment is very real despite the absurdity of the situation. Their rebellious adventures are not well planned and daring while a romantic story is playing at the side. YA dystopian novels are still YA novels and therefore the echoes of teenage life are still rolling in the background.
My aim is not only to show common, recurring tropes in the genre, but to highlight why After is such an unique book despite heeding to them. It seems like Francine Prose is taking the idea of Dystopian novels as mirror images to our daily lives and making it more literal. The dystopia slides into the modern world and not vice versa.